For Advisees

This page is mostly for MLIS advisees. If you’re interested in working with me for a PhD, email me!

I really enjoy working with my advisees. You are always welcome to email or meet with me, and I’ve also gathered the answers to some frequently asked questions on this page.

How do I meet with you?

Easy! You can use my online scheduler. If you can’t find a time, let me know, and we’ll find a way to make it work.

How often should we meet?

Once a quarter, I’ll send you an email inviting you to schedule a meeting with me. In addition, you are welcome to book a meeting with me if a need arises. (See below.) You don’t need to ask permission; just book a time.

What does an adviser do?

I’m your consistent point of faculty contact, and I see my job as making sure you’re getting through the program as smoothly as possible. I also consider myself your advocate during the program and afterwards. Here are some things you might want to talk with me about:

  • Trouble with a class or schoolwork in general
  • Questions about areas of specialization
  • Questions about professional etiquette or career advice
  • Trouble with a faculty member or administrator
  • Help with accessibility needs
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Another set of eyes on an application or résumé

I may send you elsewhere to speak with someone who’s better equipped to answer your question, but you’re always welcome to ask me!

I have a question about a policy. What’s my first step?

The IS student handbook really is the most important document around here, and it contains a wealth of very important information. Like, seriously, it’s very comprehensive. If you have a question about forms or procedures, it’s quite likely that I’ll look up the answer in the handbook! You might want to bookmark it in your browser so that you can find it easily.

I of course will attempt to help you as best I can, but the person in the department who knows the policy best is Michelle Maye, whom you can reach at

Am I stuck with you as my adviser?

NO! You can always switch advisers. I promise I won’t be offended; sometimes you just find someone who’s a better match for your professional goals or working style! To switch advisers, please speak to the faculty member with whom you’d like to work and to Michelle Maye, who can facilitate the switch.

I emailed you and it’s been a few days and I haven’t heard back. What do I do?

First, I’m sorry! I try really hard to attend to all my email, but I’d be lying if I said that some messages don’t slip through the cracks. If it’s been more than 48 hours and I haven’t gotten back to you, you are welcome to follow up! When I’m in these situations, I usually say something like, “Just following up in case this got buried!”

I just started the program. What should I know?

Opinions will vary on this, and you should definitely speak to second-year students (and check out some published advice), but here’s what I like to tell my advisees: Your LIS career starts the day you arrive in the program. This is no longer college; the people you’ll meet are now your colleagues and your professional network. It’s important to remember that you’ll likely work with many of your fellow students in some capacity throughout your career, so please, bear that in mind in your interactions with them.

Think, too, about how you want to present yourself to faculty and staff. They will also be your colleagues and your network throughout your career, and — this is important — the impression you give is far more important than any grade you get.

As part of this mindset, take a look at some advice for writing academic emails. Since so much of our correspondence is electronic, email etiquette is surprisingly important. If I notice something in your emails that seems like it could hurt you down the line, I’ll tell you. I’m not trying to punish or embarrass you—just the opposite! I want you to be armed with the best possible information.

None of this means you can’t be wrong, or confused, or disagree, or object to policies. It just means that in considering how to resolve situations like these, you should ask yourself: Would I do that in a workplace? Is there a diplomatic way I can handle this? And ASK ME if you’re not sure! Trust me, I know how baffling academic etiquette can be when you’re starting grad school.

Finally, use UCLA! This place has so much going on and so much to offer! There are talks to attend, libraries to visit, classes to take, alumni networks to take advantage of, scholarships to apply for! I know it can be confusing to navigate this place, but once you’ve settled in a bit, spend some time looking at events calendars and getting a sense of which resources on campus might be useful to you. If there’s something you want to do but aren’t sure how to access, ask me! I’ll do my best to help!

I’m in crisis. What should I do?

Grad school is hard for so many reasons! If you’re experiencing an emotional, medical, financial, or educational crisis, you are not alone. It happens more than you know. UCLA has a dedicated Students in Crisis site, where you can be assigned a case manager who’s specially trained to make sure you get the resources you need. If you’re not getting traction with them, tell me, and I’ll make sure they look after you. You may also hear people mention “the red folder.” That’s a big list of resources for getting help. (They used to actually give us a red folder; thus the name!)

Of course, I’m not a counselor. But there are two ways I might be able to help. First, I can help you make arrangements, or contact faculty on your behalf, to keep your academic life from getting out of control. Second, I might be able to connect you with good resources. So if you would like to let me know that something in your life has gone awry, you are welcome to do so.

Can I switch specializations?

Absolutely. Specializations are actually pretty informal. You don’t declare them at any point and they’re not listed anywhere on your transcript or diploma. They’re really just meant to help you figure out where to focus.

I need a letter of recommendation. Can you write me one?

Yep, probably! I will tell you if I don’t think I can write you a strong letter. To make my job easier, it’s really helpful if you provide me with:

  • a summary of and link to the opportunity for which you’re applying
  • a résumé
  • reasons you think you’d be a good fit for the opportunity
  • a list of qualities you want me to emphasize (e.g., teamwork, creativity, professionalism)
  • a deadline and instructions for submitting the letter

Asking for LoRs sometimes stresses students out, but it’s part of my job and a very reasonable request.

I think something you’ve done is objectionable or out of line. What do I do?

I hope this never happens, but if I do something you think is wrong and you’re not comfortable raising it with me, you can email the chair of the department and/or Amy Gershon. UCLA also has an Office of Ombuds Services with specially trained mediators.

I keep hearing about a “portfolio.” What is that?

Most important: You don’t really need to think about this until your second year!

But here’s what it is: In order to complete the MLIS degree, students have the option of completing either a thesis or a portfolio. (A thesis is like a long paper. Almost all students do a portfolio. Usually, when students write a thesis, it’s because they are thinking of applying to graduate school and need a writing sample for their applications.)

The portfolio requirements are (of course) detailed in the handbook, but here they are in brief:

  • a 50-word summary of your issue paper (see below)
  • a 10-page issue paper (see below)
  • a 5-page professional statement (see below)
  • examples of coursework, including a major paper (see below)
  • a record of your advising history (I keep notes for every meeting and can provide you with a list of dates we met and topics we discussed)
  • anything else you want (EXTREMELY optional)
  • a statement of accessibility (usually pretty boilerplate TBH)

The only significant piece of new writing for the portfolio is the issue paper: a ten-page paper detailing a problem in your (future) professional domain and proposing a solution. Don’t know what your professional domain is, let alone what problem you can solve? THAT IS OK! You’re not supposed to yet! As you take classes, you can bear in mind that at some point you need to come up with something, but please, you’ll do yourself no favors by freaking out about this before your second year.

You also have to complete a professional statement: a few paragraphs about your intended career, how you arrived at this decision, and how you plan to engage in professional development. Honestly, this is more for your benefit than for anybody to judge you on.

There are some small pieces of additional writing — a résumé, a summary of advising — but nothing super onerous. You do have to include something called a “major paper.” This is a research paper that, at some point during the program, you wrote a) for a class taught by a permanent faculty member that b) is worth at least 40% of your final grade. There is some flexibility on those two points, but try to remember, as you choose your classes, that at some point you’ll need to come up with a major paper for your portfolio.

You’ll submit your portfolio as a PDF (or on a website, with a PDF submitted as a backup copy) in April (if you’re graduating in the spring). Then, in May, as one of the final pieces of your MLIS degree, you’ll give a “portfolio presentation.” This is a 10-minute presentation that details the findings from your issue paper, offered to a small audience composed of several faculty member plus someone from the professional community. We can talk about this more as it approaches, but be assured that I’ll walk you through it; I won’t let you go in unprepared.

I’m a year into the program and feeling lost. How will I figure out what I want to do?

This is so common! Every year, I have this conversation with multiple students. First of all, you are not alone! LIS is a vast field (really fields) with so many subdomains. There’s so much more out there than we can fit into a two-year program!

But there are some good ways to narrow things down for yourself.

  1. Make a list of general areas that interest you (e.g., archiving, digital librarianship, something with AV, museums).
  2. Figure out which professional association represents that area and take a look at that association’s annual conference. (You can figure this out, you’re an LIS pro!) Find the conference program. What are people talking about? What conversations do you want to be a part of? Which paper titles really intrigue you? What job titles do you see listed on the program? Do you see titles that intrigue or surprise you? Write them down.
  3. Take a look at some job sites, like LibGig or INALJ. Which job titles are most interesting to you? What qualifications do you need for those jobs? Is that something you might be able to do?
  4. Make a list of people who hold jobs that interest you. You might want to speak to Dee Winn about whether our alumni network includes some of these people. Then, take a deep breath and write an email. Introduce yourself, tell the person you’re exploring jobs and think their path is exemplary, and ask if they might be free for a 15-minute phone conversation at their convenience. This is called an informational interview. It is a normal thing that normal people do, and most people are happy to take a little time to speak with you if they can. If they don’t respond or can’t do it, no big deal. On to the next person! The request is totally reasonable. When you speak to your interviewee, you might want to ask if there are other people they suggest you contact. Look at you, you’re networking!

I can’t tell you which path to take, but I can definitely speak with you about it! That’s part of my job as an adviser.

I’m starting my second year and thinking about my portfolio. What do I need to know?

OK, number one: Stop freaking out! I’ve noticed that second-year students have a tendency to hype each other up about the portfolio, but it’s really not meant to be a source of panic. Think about it: It’s a 10-page paper, some supporting documentation, and a summary of your career goals. You are 100% capable of getting this done!

The first thing I’ll ask you to do is to prepare a timeline for yourself. The most significant piece of new writing you’ll complete is the issue paper, so we’ll focus on that for the first couple of quarters. Take a look at your calendar and commitments. Break the process of writing the paper into chunks. When can you expect to come up with a topic? When can you expect to narrow the topic to a research question? Prepare a bibliography? Complete your research? Prepare an outline? Write a draft?

You don’t need to adhere absolutely to your timeline, but it’s a good way to gauge whether or not you’re on track. I can’t monitor your progress (I’ve tried, and I just have too many students to do that), but I can help you when you’re stuck.

You should also consider taking the “portfolio class,” IS400, because it can provide you with structure and accountability as you write your issue paper and prepare your supporting documents.

What makes a good issue paper topic?

In an issue paper, you’re supposed to identify a problem in your area of (future) professional practice and propose a solution. If we’ve met to discuss this, you’ve probably already heard me tell you to “be concrete!” I’ve found that students have the most success when their topics are sufficiently narrow and manageable to be fully addressed in the space you have.

At first, this can feel constraining, especially when you have lots of interests, or really ambitious goals. But often students are surprised to discover that going narrow is actually a great way to put your more ambitious ideals into action. After all, even if the problem seems small, you have to have a set of assumptions guiding your solution. That’s where your big ideas come in!

So instead of “increasing equity and diversity in the archival profession,” maybe you could try “identifying effective strategies for increasing participation by PoC in professional conferences.” Or instead of “addressing the intersection of homelessness and libraries,” perhaps you could try “incorporating crisis housing help into library services.” The more narrow topics still speak to what you really care about, but hopefully won’t leave you feeling as overwhelmed as the broader ones!